They were children – From the Maison d’Izieu collections From 4 april to 22 september 2024

Exhibition curator

Stéphanie Boissard, Researcher, Archivist and Iconographer at the Maison d’Izieu

Le Sifflet ©Maison d’Izieu. This whistle was given to the teacher Gabrielle Perrier by Raoul Bentitou, to help her gather her students. She found it again, after returning to Izieu after the round-up.


They were children! is the fourth temporary exhibition in the Zlatin Gallery.

After the children’s drawings and Georgy’s letters and photos, “The Year 1943 in the House” took us back 80 years to when Sabine and Miron Zlatin moved to Izieu, and told us about the lives of the House’s inhabitants during 1943.

They were children! naturally follows the course of History.

Original documents and never-before-seen objects take visitors back to the beginning of 1944. The serenity of the children’s daily lives at the House contrasts with the fear of imminent danger and the violence of the round-up. The first outlines of memory followed, sketched out by the requests of families and the testimonies of relatives. The most tenacious commitment not to forget led to the inauguration of the memorial in 1994.

Life is nearly ordinary

Letter by Georgy Halpern to his father. ©Maison d’Izieu, Archives Beate et Serge Klarsfeld


Although the House of Izieu was a place of passage, the adults tried to create a kind of cocoon around the children. They wanted them to have an ordinary rhythm of life, to find their bearings, no matter how long they stayed.
The children help prepare meals, go to class with teacher Gabrielle Perrier or to the Collège in Belley. They draw and organise shows. They take every opportunity to celebrate. They make the surrounding countryside their own playground. They regularly write to their families.
They laugh, sing, danse or make friends… they live their lives as children. Of course, not everything is rosy; we are in a time of war. The moments of joy do not erase the suffering of the children: they are separated from their parents and have lost their homes. Some manage to leave the House to find refuge with family or friends.
After the cold of winter, the children still living at the House are excited about the arrival of spring. They look forward to the future, working hard at school to make their parents proud and dreaming of their future.


The danger approaches

Concerns grow and the adults are looking for a refuge. Léa Feldblum used this safe conduct to transport children to Hérault at the beginning of March 1944. Other departures were scheduled for 11 April. Sauf-conduit de Léa Feldblum ©Maison d’Izieu, Archives Beate et Serge Klarsfeld


Italy has surrendered. In september 1943, the Germans take control of the zone previously occupied by the Italians. Four months later, the tension is palpable. The rules have changed : the few exceptions to the antisemitic laws do not work anymore. On 7 january 1944, Dr Ben Drihem, the doctor who previously took care of the children is arrested and deported. Just over a month after, on 8 february, the offices of the children’s aid society OSE-UGIF in Chambéry, around 40km from Izieu are raided; ten people are arrested and are sent to Ausschwitz. The unwavering support, sub-prefect Pierre-Marcel Wiltzer is transferred. The protective barriers fall one after another.
Sabine and Miron Zlatin understand that they have to act fast. With the help of the other adults in the House, they look for ways to disperse the children. Léa Feldblum brings some of them to the Hérault region near Montpellier, in early march. During this time, daily life continues for the children in Izieu. Marie-Louise Bouvier, the neighbour Mme Perticoz’s niece, takes out her camera and  dedicates a roll of film to the children. They happily pose in small groups with the Chartreuse mountains in the background.


How to live after the horror

Retour à l’envoyeur ©Maison d’Izieu, Archives Beate et Serge Klarsfeld. Après la rafle, le courrier destiné aux enfants ne peut être livré. La mention « Le destinataire n’a pu être atteint » est ajouté au verso de l’enveloppe avant son renvoi vers l’expéditeur, ici Sérafine Halpern, la maman de Georgy.


The round up takes place in the morning of 6 april 1944 while Sabine Zlatin is in Montpellier to organise the dispersion of the children. The 44 children and 7 of their educators are brought to Montluc Prison in Lyon and then transferred to Drancy internment camp. Miron Zlatin and two of the teenage boys are sent to a labor camp in Estonia, where they are shot. All of the other children and educators are sent to Ausschwitz.
Only Léa Feldblum survives. In her testimony from 11 mai 1945, she describes what happened in the round up. Information does not travel as fast as today. Some families have waited months to find out the fate of their loved ones, sending letters that were returned to the sender and approaching institutions, to no avail.
The survivors are powerless to face the appalling truth. Some of them work to keep the memory of the children alive. In 1946, Sabine Zlatin, with the help of sub-prefect Jean Cardot, brings the local population together for the first commemoration. A plaque is affixed to the house and a memorial is erected at the foot of the hill in the village of Brégnier-Cordon. In the 1970s, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld and the mothers of children from the House do everything they can to find Klaus Barbie and bring him to justice. Following the trial, the association is set up and the memorial museum is created to continue the work of remembrance that has begun.